July 12, 2008 -- There were no ribbons and no winners, but today was as important as any competition day in the lives of the 10 horses preparing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in Eventing. The horses, along with five who have been preparing in England, are on the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) short list for eventing, from which the team for the 2008 Olympic Games will be selected on Monday.
The Fork Stables opened its gates to the USEF to allow the horses and riders use of the its training and preparation facility. The mandatory outing is an important piece of the selection puzzle which will help determine which horse/rider combinations head to the Olympic Games. Dressage and cross country got the outing started on Friday and show jumping served as a finale on Saturday morning.
There were five clear show jumping rounds over Marc Donavan's course. Chef d'Equipe Capt. Mark Phillips was pleased with the overall performance of his potential Olympians.
"Marc built a course similar to what we could expect in Hong Kong and generally they jumped well," he said after the show jumping.
As he had been all weekend (as he is the only rider with two horses) Phillip Dutton was first to go with Connaught, this year's Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event winner.
The 15-year-old Irish Thoroughbred owned by Bruce Duchossios jumped his customary spectacular round, leaving plenty of space between himself and the jumps. He set the bar that a clear round was achievable.
Bonnie Mosser, from Unionville, Pa., jumped the next clear round on Merloch. The 11-year-old New Zealand Thoroughbred jumped a very positive round and Mosser was thrilled with his effort throughout the two days.
"I thought my horse jumped well," said Mosser after her round. "The warm-up was a little hectic, they rolled along pretty quick, I think I only jumped about seven warm-up fences but he went in the arena and really tried. He was very rideable today. Yesterday he was a little rusty, but yesterday possibly helped today."
Merloch was the 2006 North American Junior & Young Rider Champion with his former rider (and Mosser's student) Alex Zavoyna. He won the 2007 Jersey Fresh CCI*** and did his first four-star at Kentucky this spring.
"I'm glad I'm here," said Mosser. "This is the most important day of my life thus far and to be here with this group of people is an honor."
Fellow Pennsylvanian Buck Davidson followed Dutton and Mosser's lead put in a dynamite effort on BallyNoe Castle RM. The 8-year-old Irish Thoroughbred is the most inexperienced horse on paper in the group, but no one would have known by watching his performance this weekend.
"He's eight...he's fantastic," said Davidson, who is the son of five-time Olympian Bruce Davidson. "This is his fourth Advanced ever, and he was better than he's ever been in all three phases. It was as good as he's ever done, and he was as good as he could be."
"Reggie" did his first CCI*** this spring and was second at Jersey Fresh. Named after super jock Reggie Miller, and owned by Carl and Cassandra Segal, he one of the U.S. representatives at the test event in Hong Kong last summer. Davidson doesn't know what will happen in terms of selection for this year but he knows one thing for sure.
"I have a wicked nice horse for the future," he said.
The rider that traveled the furthest with the only mare (and littlest horse) in the field also jumped a great clear round. Jennifer Wooten made all the miles worth the effort and had a very impressive performance in all three phases. The Irish Thoroughbred mare owned by Daisy Tognazzi made light work of the show jumping course.
"I am very pleased with my horse and with myself," said Wooten. "Since I'm so new to this part of the game there were a lot of unknowns and I just told myself I was just going to come out and enjoy myself and use it as experience for next year. She's pretty good about wanting to show jump clean, she's a good jumping horse and she loves her job. She just tries and tries."
The pair jumped around clear at the two CCI****s they have attempted (Pau in 2007 and Rolex Kentucky in 2008).
Becky Holder rounded out the clear rounds with Courageous Comet. The Mendota Heights, Minn., residents reaffirmed their impressive runner-up finish at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** performance this spring with a rock solid performance at the Mandatory Outing. Show jumping in a hackamore, like the did at Kentucky the duo looked very professional as the second to last to go.
Two horse/rider combinations had one rail down. Dutton's second horse, Woodburn didn't get quite to the ninth fence (a vertical) and had it down. Dutton took advantage of the opportunity to ride through that section of the course again after his round and correct the mistake. The 12-year-old New Zealand Thoroughbred is owned by Acorn Hill Farm.
Heidi White and Northern Spy were the second of the four faulters. White used the opportunity to continue to working on what she's been practicing at home. One of the most experienced combinations in the field, this combination has been to Burghley, Badminton, the World Equestrian Games and Rolex Kentucky.
"I changed my mind on course today," said White. "I lost the quality of the canter. I've been known to cut my turns and I should have just taken an extra second in the turn today the way I've been practicing. We are trying to make improvements where we know we need to."
White of Aiken, S.C., was pleased with the way the entire weekend unfolded for her.
"I'm thrilled with the entire weekend," said White of her performance with the 15-year-old English Thoroughbred gelding. "I'm really pleased with how he jumped today. It was great practice, if I'm lucky enough to go to England I want to get in the ring one more time. There was pressure but it was fun, it was practice but everyone wanted to do a good job."
Kim Severson is going through her third Olympic selection process. She was the only U.S. rider to win two medals at the 2004 Olympic Games with Winsome Adante. She has brought her new horse, Tipperary Liadhnan, quickly up through the ranks, and he was fifth at his first CCI**** this spring. The 11-year-old Irish gelding had two rails down today in his first show jumping round since the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Severson took the opportunity to re-school and rectified the mistake.
Local rider Will Faudree, who lives in Southern Pines, N.C., was the traveling reserve for the 2004 Olympic Games with Antigua. The 19-year-old Australian Thoroughbred gelding represented the U.S. at the World Equestrian Games in 2006 and has jumped around as many four-stars as any horse in the world. The pair had three down, including an unlucky rail at the first but Faudree re-jumped two sections of the course after he completed without any difficulty.
In the best interest of Brandenburg's Joshua, Stephen Bradley asked to be excused by the selectors from the Mandatory Outing for a veterinary reason. The selectors granted Bradley's request. Unfortunately Brandenburg's Joshua has been the victim of bad timing with a foot abscess that opened up on Thursday but has improved significantly since.
Five horse/rider combinations from the short list also competed at the Barbury Castle CIC*** last weekend in England and per the selection procedures riders were allowed to choose which one to contest.
Veterinarians will evaluate the horses thoroughly this afternoon and tomorrow and the USEF will name the U.S. Olympic Team in Eventing on Monday July 14. The horse/rider combinations named to the team and the traveling reserves will then travel to England for final preparations and quarantine.